Photography Careers, Jobs & Salaries

Photography Careers, Jobs & Salaries

Photographers produce and preserve images that paint a picture, tell a story, or record an event for posterity.

To do this requires technical expertise and artistic ability. The need for a "good eye", and an understanding of composition, lighting, and subject are key. Professional photographers are familiar with a variety of cameras and photography equipment, and they know how to use lights, cameras, lenses, and many other techniques in order to create the desired effect.

The Work


Today, most photographers use digital cameras rather than the more traditional film camera, though some may use both types -- depending on the assignment and their own preference.

Film cameras immediately apply light to silver halide film to mirror an image, whereas digital cameras electronically recreate an image. Since film requires processing and printing, film photographers will send their film to a professional lab for processing, or use their own darkroom to develop pictures, but setting up and maintaining a laboratory can be expensive.

Photographers who work with digital cameras need a computer with advanced editing software and a good printer. This set-up allows for greater control, since the photographer or editor can eliminate glare, red-eye and other undesirable effects, and also crop and resize photos before printing.


Portrait photographers work in studios (or sometimes on location) to photograph individuals and groups for weddings, graduation, religious ceremonies, school pictures, advertising and business purposes, and much more.

Fine arts photographers sell their photographs as art – they need to be especially creative, and have a good deal of patience, tenacity and perseverance to be successful.

Commercial and industrial photographers take pictures of buildings, objects, and landscapes. The pictures are used in publications, catalogs, equipment manuals, textbooks, and more.

Scientific photographers record scientific and medical data, results, and phenomena – most have additional knowledge in areas such as astronomy, engineering, or chemistry.

News photographers (or photojournalists) capture newsworthy events and people for publications or television. Some are salaried staff, and others work freelance, selling their images to interested parties.

Working conditions vary. Many work long, variable hours and must be available on short notice (such as to cover a breaking news story). Some can find only part-time work, or do freelance work in their spare time. Portrait photographers might have to travel to the shoot – this is also true of other photographers, which may go cover a newsworthy event somewhere else. Equipment is heavy, and some photographers work in harsh or dangerous conditions. Mixing photography chemicals can be hazardous if proper care is not taken.

Outlook and Earnings

Unsurprisingly, competition for photography jobs is intense, particularly as the explosion of digital photography has made everyone a photographer to one extent or another.

Despite keen competition, it is possible to succeed in landing a salaried position or making a living from freelancing are usually good not only at photography but also at operating a business. Related work experience, job-related training, or some unique skill or talent -- such as a background in computers or electronics -- also improves a photographer’s job prospects.

Salaried photographers (who tend to work full-time) generally earn more than freelancers. The scientific and professional services industry employs the most photographers, while newspapers, book, and directory publishers are the second largest employer of full-time photographers.

Freelancers and studio owners incur considerable expense in purchasing equipment and supplies, maintaining equipment, and employing assistants. Fine arts photographers usually cannot support themselves solely through their art, and must have other jobs. Job outlook information sourced from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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